Daegaer wrote, @ 2003-03 -06 In all possible universes, I would eventually write this fic It had to happen. There was a time in school when just about every single one of my essays would contain a reference to my all time favourite world conquerer, Alexander. The trick was to make them relevant references. Given the terrifying depth of my madness, there was really no chance that this would not be written at some point.
Rating: Oh, let’s say PG.
No copyright infringement intended. Good Omens,
Crowley belong to Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaimán.
Mother of God
The Persian royal court in the city of Susa was cultured and exquisitely civilised. It prized good taste, and was remarkably tolerant. When the first king of Persia had come to power one of the first things he’d done was to let the previous regime’s political prisoners and their families all go home. He’d also used state money to foster religious tolerance and to rebuild various temples. He’d been an incredibly popular man, and all in all, Aziraphale was very proud of the work he’d done in forming the king’s moral character. Two hundred years later, the official imperial policy was still one of religious tolerance and a sort of decentralised hands-off system of governors. What Aziraphale liked best of the work he’d done here was the civil service. He’d built it up from a collection of local scribes in each city to a big mechanism for running a state in such a way as to minimise the interference from those people who thought they were running the state. Admittedly there’d been a few well, several regrettable murders done in the name of state security, but life was stable and peaceful for an awful lot of people. Persian religion, like all human religions, fell far short of describing Ineffability, but it was by no means as bad as some of the things Aziraphale had seen over the centuries. In fact in some ways, it was disturbingly accurate, talking about the world as a place where a good spirit was opposed by a bad spirit in all sorts of ridiculous ways, suggesting that not all persuasive winged fellows were the type of people one should listen to, and advocating killing snakes just on principle. He rather wondered where his opposite number had got himself to. He certainly hadn’t been seen in these parts since well before the empire had got under way.
* * *
Crowley shifted his weight comfortably, scales rustling across scales. When he wanted to look like a human, he looked young, a bright up-and-coming sort of young man. When he was in this form, however, no one could think of him as anything but old. Young snakes just didn’t come in a size like this, 15’ long, body as thick around as a large man’s thigh. Of course, his current abode wasn’t really suited for a snake quite that large, so he’d scaled (1) down accordingly. He only let one person see him at full size, and that was rare, usually when she’d had enough to drink that it would seem dreamlike later. Right now he was curled comfortably in her bed, snuggled up against her warmth. She was young, and very beautiful. Not that he cared too much about the outer packaging humans came in. He could see the inner person after all, know their inner beauty, and the woman who thought she owned him was an ambitious, mean-spirited, cold-hearted and spiteful bitch. She’d never had a moment’s soppiness in her life. Crowley thought she was just about perfect for his plans.
Tempting individuals was all very well, but there were just so many people these days, living all spread out. It was hard to get around. He hadn’t even known of the enemy’s little project until those blasted horse nomads suddenly got organised. He’d been horrified at what he’d found. Most humans made tut-tutting noises about lying, but felt that they themselves had some sort of exemption from truthfulness. It was really unpleasant to find a culture that more-or-less practised what it preached. With a whole one-third of education being in telling the truth. And priests who were generally not corrupt and had the disturbing habit of looking at him and screaming stuff about him being evil. And a more or less monotheistic religion which they followed scrupulously, and yet were tolerant of others’ opinions. Crowley really hated Persia. He especially hated the way he’d left it. He’d tried to get a nice bit of human sacrifice into the religion, something a lot of religions were susceptible to, he’d found. The first victim the very first victim had done a lot of loud praying for some protection against demons, and next thing he knew, there was Aziraphale. He hadn’t wasted any time on witty comments, just flung himself on the angel, and tried to squeeze the life out of him. He hadn’t changed form quick enough, that was the problem, and he hadn’t got Aziraphale’s wings. A couple of seconds later they were high in the air, with the angel doing a very good job of loosening his coils. In order not to fall he’d had to change back into human form and hold on. Well, into something similar to human form anyhow. He always enjoyed remembering his fangs and claws sinking into the angel’s flesh, and the way he’d managed to claw his way to a point where he could concentrate on trying to rip off the angel’s wings. It hadn’t really been much of a plan; he could admit that now. Tear off a wing, make sure the bastard fell, and unfurl his own wings just at the last moment. He hadn’t taken into account the exceedingly pissed off expression on Aziraphale’s cheery little face, which was why he’d been rather surprised when they did a sudden back flip and he found himself entangled in one damaged and one very undamaged lot of snowy-white feathers, with both of them hurtling towards the ground.
“Falling’s really what you do best, isn’t it?” Aziraphale had said calmly as the mountains came up fast.
He’d landed really, really hard only to realise in disgust that Aziraphale had untangled his wings and made an ungraceful landing beside him. It had been all he could do to heal himself before the fight started again. The mountains had shaken under them, and they’d made an impact on the local mythology as well, which was a minor consolation. He liked to think it had been a draw, and he had of course reported it as a victory. The truth was, he’d been under prepared and he’d been beaten.
And he was going to get revenge.
* * *
He’d carefully nurtured his human’s nastiness for years, since she was a spoiled brat of a child. He’d been a little snake then, just the right size for a little girl. He’d coiled himself around her arm like a bracelet, looked her right in the eye and spoken.
“Don’t tell anyone, but I’m magic.”
The big eyes had gone round with wonder. Whenever they were alone he’d told her stories, and emphasised how special she was. He’d found that humans were exceptionally good at self-fulfilling prophecies, and it was always funny to find a kid with potential and to tell them that they were stupid and ugly and fat, and that their parents didn’t love them and no one else ever would either. When he dropped in on them again, twenty or thirty years down the line they generally were as unlovable as could be. He figured it might work for positive messages as well. (2) He’d stopped talking out loud when she turned six, and was just starting to realise that it really wasn’t normal to hold conversations with your pet. He still whispered in her dreams, or just outright dropped things into her mind. Many people have a little inner voice that provides commentary on their thoughts and actions. Hers just happened to be a little more sibilant than most.
It had been easy to interest her in the wilder forms of religion, the type that involved tearing small animals apart with your bare hands while taking drugs. She got into a lot of trouble for running around unprotected on the mountainside, but it never stopped her. All kinds of nasty things could happen to a girl, but she just knew nothing could harm her. After all, she always took her lucky snake with her. He was a lot bigger now, but she could still lift him up and whirl round with him in her arms. Sometimes it sounded like he was laughing, but she wasn’t a little girl anymore, so she never thought about that too much. When she’d hit her teens she was absolutely gorgeous, and Crowley had been tempted, very tempted. But her virginity was important to his plan, so he’d restricted himself to giving her some interesting dreams. Human form. Snake form. Somewhere in between. Those were the mornings he woke up crushed in her embrace, with big wide grins on both their faces. It was a good job she wasn’t a morning person and that he could manage to get the proper snaky expression back rather quickly.
It had been relatively easy to make sure she was in the right place at the right time to catch the right young man’s eye. Brush your hair, my pet. Put on your best dress. Now, out the door. Take a chaperone, you’re a respectable young woman. The right young man, who had been trying to drum up an alliance with her father, took one look at her and fell, hard. Of course, there’d been some persuasion going on at the time. Take a good look. You’ll never find a woman like this again, I can promise you that. Like all of Crowley’s best lies, it was no more than the truth.
And so Philip, the young and beleaguered king of a minor backwater kingdom no one had heard much of married Olympias, the daughter of an even more beleaguered king from an even more minor kingdom. Her family were glad to see her go, being sick of her horrible temper and nasty mood swings. She brought with her some old-fashioned silver dinnerware, five changes of clothing, two terrified and abused slave girls and her beloved pet snake.
* * *
It wasn’t a very happy marriage. For a start, Crowley wasn’t at all welcome in the marriage bed, and found himself banished to a basket. And actual sex wasn’t a match for dream sex. And it wasn’t long before she stopped being on her best behaviour and started screaming abuse at her husband. Within a year, the unfortunate man had moved back to his own room, and only paid visits. Crowley moved right out of the basket and back into her bed, whispering that she was a poor mistreated woman, and the king was a boor. Of course the last fight hadn’t been her fault, perish the thought. Why should she apologise? It was all her husband’s fault. Why didn’t she go up on the mountain and kill a few rabbits like the old days? That would cheer her up.
Of course, while it was amusing to sow marital discord, it wasn’t actually furthering his plan. The girl was being stubborn, and simply could not become pregnant. Or rather, she wasn’t getting pregnant with a boy. Twice now Crowley had had to make her miscarry because she was having a girl. She hadn’t known she was pregnant in the first place, and he was doing her a favour. Sons were simply valued so much more than girls in this culture. He sighed. That had seemed like an excellent wheeze at the time, keeping half the human race in subordination to the other half, but it did limit him here. If girls were boys’ equals he could just have gone ahead with his human and her sweet, nasty little mind. As it was, he’d settle for her helping him warp her son. If she ever had one. Philip seemed best at fathering girls. Even most of his bastards were girls. Crowley was seriously considering just doing it himself. It was only the thought of all the paperwork that had to be gone through in such cases that was stopping him. There would be major trouble if he did it without official permission, and personal spite might not be considered a good enough reason.
“You need a son,” he told her one night, when she’d drunk rather a lot.
“Not my fault,” she slurred.
“It is, you silly bitch. You’re just not trying. The last three times he came to your room you sent him away, claimed you had your period.”
“Did not. I was there, remember? Come on, you know I’m just looking out for you. You’ll be securing your position if you have his son. His advisors are trying to get him to send you home, you know.”
She’d almost woken up properly at that. She hadn’t sent Philip away when he came the next time. Crowley had reluctantly taken himself off to his basket before Philip threw him there, and had smirked at the waves of rage and revulsion Olympias was giving off. In fact she was welcoming to Philip every time he visited thereafter, even though it was clearly nothing more than duty on both sides. Finally, finally, she conceived a son. Before she knew it herself, Crowley gave her a good prophetic dream, one where she was moving round a strange yet somehow familiar palace, and he came to have a little chat.
“Fear not,” he said, having decided on a bit of tradition. Not her culture’s tradition he had to admit, but what the hey. “You have conceived and you shall bear a son.”
She’d been happy. So happy that he let her talk back.
“Why has it taken so long? Why haven’t you visited me more often? Don’t you know what I’ve had to put up with? How could you abandon me to the swinish lusts of that brute?”
“You’re so whiny and selfish!” he laughed with delight. “Ok, listen up. He’s not the real father, all right? Of course, you mustn’t say anything, not yet. It’s our little secret, and you can spring it on him later. It’ll be such sweet revenge. So. Better?”
“Who’s the father, then?”
Crowley smiled mysteriously.
“Do you not know of the stories of the children of the gods and human women?”
She looked at him in wonder.
“Are you — ? Are you daimon, god or man? Why have you never told me your name in all this time?”
Crowley just looked at his fingernails modestly, letting her draw her own conclusions.
* * *
It had seemed a good plan. Find the right set of parents, get the right son born, and warp him from before birth to do what Crowley wanted. He knew it was possible; just look how nasty Olympias had turned out with his influence. He thought he’d got his child-influencing down to a fine art after practising on her. This, however, was turning out to be more difficult than he’d imagined. Not only was the brat turning out to be annoyingly moral, but his mother was actually arguing about the correct way to influence her son.
“Cut him down to size, make him squirm”, Crowley whispered at night.
And she’d praise the boy’s achievements.
“That was a very mean thing he did to his sister,” Crowley would observe. “Give the lad a present.”
And she’d reprimand the child for his naughtiness.
It was infuriating. The woman was belatedly fighting her base instincts, all because she had apparently somehow kept the capacity for some sort of love. Such adult-onset soppiness disgusted Crowley, and the boy annoyed him. At the age of four, the little shit had looked straight at him and announced that he didn’t like Crowley and wished his mother didn’t listen to him. The next month had been spent scouring the surrounding countryside for angelic interference. It was both a comfort and a worry not to find any. It was also worrying how good the boy was at just about anything he turned his hand to. Crowley sometimes suspected that someone had been filing the necessary paperwork behind his back, and if he ever found out who it was he was going make his displeasure clear and terminal. When the boy was a teenager, he threw another boy at him. Let the little prude loosen up, learn the pleasures of the flesh. They were always more susceptible then. The other boy also turned out to be disgustingly moral, and repulsively loyal, with the result that the two of them formed some sort of self-righteous reinforcement system. And they were faithful to each other too. Crowley could only shake his head in amazement at two monogamous teenage boys. His judgement was going, that was what was wrong.
And so, after yet another time that Olympias had ignored the little voice of her conscience (3) telling her to savage her son’s sense of self worth, Crowley cracked.
“Enough!” he yelled, pouring himself from the basket by the fireplace.
Olympias took a step back as he dropped the harmless-little-snake act, and she got a fully sober look at his real size, flat triangular head on a level with hers, and yellow unblinking eyes glaring at her with anger. As her knees gave way he flung a coil round her to keep her standing.
“Oh no! You don’t get to faint, not unless I let you. We’re going to have a talk about your regrettable attitude.”
“You you’re -,” she said unsteadily.
“Yes! I’m real! Who the hell did you think you were talking to all these years?”
“Dreams,” she said with some desperation. “Childish fantasies. And I haven’t been up on the mountainside in years.”
“The voice in your dreams, in your mind? Me. All that ripping animals apart was just to see how far I could get you to go. You’re really a nasty piece of work, a real credit to my parenting skills. We’ve had fun, but now you’re interfering in my plans, Olympias. I’ve been giving you clear instructions about your brat and you’ve been ignoring them. It’s like there’s a wall around his soul, and I can’t get in. Just do as you’re told, all right?”
“What do you want with him?” she asked, suddenly full of maternal protective rage. Given that she was currently being squeezed by a very large talking snake, Crowley could only admire her bloody-mindedness.
“Look, you’ve got one of the most devious and hellish minds I’ve seen in a human, and I respect you for that. But let’s face it, if you want to get ahead in this world you’ve got to be a man. I’ve enjoyed our time together, but you’ve done what I needed you for, and you gave me a nice little boy to work through. Of course, because you’ve been ignoring me, he’s a little too nice, but we can compensate for that. So if you want to stay on my good side in your declining years you might want to consider Doing. What. I. Say. I need to spend less time coddling you and your pathetic moods, and more time with your precious son.”
“Why are you saying these things?” she asked in a shaking voice.
He leant in, whispering very gently and very spitefully, “Because I have a theory that I can be the first person to make you cry.”
She froze, not in fear, but in bitchy fury. He giggled softly in her ear, flicking his tongue out to taste her annoyance. She shrieked in anger.
“You have some nerve! You don’t speak to me openly for years and now you decide to make insolent demands? What have you ever done for me?”
Crowley pulled back sharply, hissing and exposing long, dripping fangs. After a moment of blinding, seething rage he decided that crushing her to death or giving her a good poisoning probably wouldn’t help matters. (4) He settled for shifting form and poking a finger hard into her chest.
“I made you Queen of Macedon! I gave you self-esteem like no other girl ever had in this dump! I made sure your first child was a boy! Have you any idea how boring it was to abort all those damn girls?”
She shrieked and went for him, trying to claw his eyes out. He grabbed both her wrists, secured them in one hand, and squeezed her throat tight in the other.
“Damn, I wish you’d been born a man,” he said reflectively. “You’re quite the little treasure. Now, now, settle down. I’m really quite fond of you and I don’t want to damage you. In fact, given our long and intimate acquaintance I’m giving you a second chance. All right?”
He let her go and watched as she doubled over, gasping for breath.
“Are you are you his father?”
“What? Oh, that. No.”
“Is Zeus his father?”
“If you like. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that from now on you’re going to be more sensible, and you’re not going to force me to act so crudely again. Come here. Look into my eyes.”
“Why should I do anything you say?” she asked.
“Well, you see,” he said, trapping her gaze in his, “In a few moments you’ll be waking up with no memory of this the sore throat is the beginning of a cold, by the way and you’ll have a compulsion not to get up my nose in future. We’ll just go on as we did before, and you’ll still have your lucky snake that you love. And I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing I spoke my mind to you at least once.”
He caught her as she fell, and carried her to her chair, arranging the cushions under her, and neatly tucking the blanket around her legs. Olympias woke to discover she had dropped her spindle. She felt quite sleepy, like she always did at the start of a cold, and was glad the blanket was so snug. Her snake had crept onto her lap for warmth, poor thing. She stroked its head gently, and it shifted round happily, coiling round her arm as it had done when she was small. The whole snake had barely gone around her arm then, and now it could have wrapped itself round her entire waist three times if it wanted. Glad that no one was around to see her act so sentimentally, she gave it a quick kiss on its head.
* * *
Aziraphale was getting worried, although no one else at court seemed to be. Everyone was saying that a small army of Europeans couldn’t do much against an entire continent with a far more advanced civilisation. He wanted to believe that, really he did, but city after city was falling in Asia Minor, and then the Persians had been beaten at the first big battle. Nothing to worry about, the generals said. His Majesty is leading the next army, he’ll give them a good seeing-to. The Persians lost again, the royal army was routed, and the Royal family, who’d been brought along as if it were some military picnic, were captured. Aziraphale, who had got himself a job in the civil service, was desolate. The other bureaucrats thought he was making a fuss over nothing, so he got himself transferred to the military side of things and promoted, and listened gloomily to the generals who had decided to start worrying. Soon the Greeks had taken Egypt, and were heading for the heartland of the empire. When he heard that they had stopped off in a backwater of the empire purely to make sure Jerusalem submitted, Aziraphale realised for the first time that this was personal. He tried to make a case to a sympathetic general.
“These Greeks, Lord Nabarzanes,” he said. “They’re enemies of true religion, you know. We really should consider something ,” he trailed off miserably. Like bolts of lightning. I was wondering if I could see your top secret maps to make sure I don’t lay waste to too many square miles?
“They’re just pagan barbarians, God’s on our side,” Nabarzanes said. “Anyway, since when did you convert to Zoroastrianism? I thought you were Jewish.”
Aziraphale smiled weakly.
“Er, well, in a manner. It’s just they’ve been so successful despite being so heavily outnumbered and, how shall I put this? Don’t you think there might be some sort of demonicpoweratworkhere?” he finished in a rush.
General Nabarzanes gave him a comforting smile, and told him that God would inevitably win out against any such influence and sent him back to his desk, where Aziraphale was forced to overhear himself being described as a nice fellow, but a bit of a religious maniac, and it might be kinder to move him to a less stressful job.
Soon, King Darius was on the run. He took a fair amount of luxury items with him, Persian kings no longer being quite the fast-moving horse-nomads they once were. He also took numerous wives, concubines, catamites and assorted bureaucrats along, all of which slowed his escape. That winter, sitting freezing in a city designed to be a cool refuge in the height of summer, Aziraphale was heartbroken to hear that Persepolis had been destroyed. All its lovely artwork, the graceful buildings, the religious edifices where the Persians did the best they could, poor things. All gone. He’d loved Persepolis, had helped design it, and had gone back again and again to spend time just admiring the delicate carvings and inlays of its highly decorated palaces. And now it was gone. Obliterated in a spiteful, unnecessary manner, just because he had loved it.
Shortly after that, the king was first arrested, then murdered by his own generals, including the nice General Nabarzanes, and practically the entire high command of the empire surrendered to the enemy.
Aziraphale decided he should go on the run in earnest. He got ten miles before he fell off the camel, and began to trudge wearily back. He’d just have to do his best not to be noticed.
* * *
Crowley sat back, sighing with pleasure. It had taken more work than he’d expected, but he couldn’t argue with the result. Once he’d finally got his annoyingly moral warlord onto his father’s throne and what a lark that had been, like a soap opera in heroic hexameters - and pointed him in the right direction, boom, there went the neighbourhood. Cities falling left and right, people surrendering all over the place. Nowhere near enough atrocities for Crowley’s taste, but he felt sure that he could probably do a little more work on that. Olympias’ brat was as bloody-minded as his mother, and that was the weakness Crowley had decided to exploit. When the army had reached Tyre, Crowley had nipped over the city wall, and dropped off almost foolproof plans for how to defeat the siege. Then he sat back and watched the kid get angrier and angrier. After seven months of building a causeway, and having red hot sand flung all over the builders, the army was not in a good mood. When they eventually breached the defences they killed every adult man found with anything remotely like a weapon, raped almost every woman and sold the terrorised civilians what was left of them off into slavery. Highly amusing.
It was even funnier to burn Persepolis, with all its damned pictures of angels. Dear, oh dear, Aziraphale, he thought. What’s with all these graven images then? He’d put the suggestion to burn it into the mind of one of the nice girls of uncertain virtue who had accompanied the army. He knew her moral weakness very well. She was a patriot. She was also the girlfriend of one of the kid’s closest pals, and so had the chance to nag him over dinner about avenging Persian insults on the glorious cities of Greece, letting her throw the first torch as something extra embarrassing, and so on. Crowley danced cheerfully through the flames, laughing himself sick at the thought of Aziraphale’s face when he heard.
And then the Persian king turned up dead. And pretty much all his generals came flooding over to the Greek side. And Crowley’s candidate became king of the world. Got you, you smug bastard, Crowley thought, and began asking newly arrived Persians if they might be able to help him locate an old friend. When he heard that Aziraphale had last been seen heading north, clinging desperately to camelback, he almost felt sorry for the camel. The army turned north, towards Bactria.
And then it all went wrong. The kid started liking Persia. That wasn’t meant to happen. He started being fair and even handed to the people he conquered, appointing Persian governors, not allowing his friends to be rude to visiting dignitaries, making speeches about how good government would yield good results.
" Come on, have just a few of them strangled,” Crowley would whisper. “At least kick your damn dog once in a while!”
It was like tempting a brick wall. He tried breaking up the kid and his friend, throwing one of the Persian king’s cast-offs into the mix. The friend swallowed his hurt and never once complained. Crowley thought about tearing his hair out. He even thought about tearing his own hair out. While he was fulminating, the kid surprised him by suddenly marrying a local girl. She was easier to work with, but hadn’t got much influence over her husband. (5) Crowley had to admit that if you absolutely had to get married, it was probably a good move to find someone who couldn’t speak your language. Far less nagging. He started stirring up trouble in the Greek army.
“Can’t get to see him without going through a barbarian secretary,” he murmured. “He’s adopting Persian customs who does he think put him where he is?” he whispered.
And outright to the ordinary soldiers he said, “The king means to go on to the end of the world. We’ll never see our homes again.”
It started a few conspiracies, there were a few executions, the army even invented non-violent protest (6) and got the kid to turn back. It certainly wasn’t the blood-drenched ruin of Aziraphale’s plans that Crowley had been hoping for. Sometimes he thought there must be a certain level of thwarting going on, but Aziraphale hadn’t been seen for ages. The bastard had to be up in the Arctic by now. And he wasn’t this subtle; he was a shining white raiment and flaming sword sort of chap. After looking round carefully, and checking things out of the corner of his eyes, Crowley decided he was being paranoid. The kid had always been this annoying, he thought, he was just being annoying on a larger scale now.
Finally, he decided that subtlety was wasted on the situation. Direct action. If you wanted a thing done right, and so on.
The kid’s friend was sick, but recovering. The kid had been driving himself crazy with worry, but was happy enough now to go take some time for himself. When everyone was gone, Crowley sauntered into the sickroom.
“Hello, sunshine,” he said. “Nice weather we’re having.”
He strolled around, making sure that the window was shut and the door was bolted. The sick man was beginning to wake up, and was obviously wondering what was going on.
“You see,” Crowley said, “I don’t have anything against you personally, but I’ve thought of a way you can help me really screw things up.”
He picked up a heavy cushion, and gave his victim a bright and crazy smile.
* * *
Kicking pieces of mangled bodies out of his way, Crowley took a deep breath of the despair and hate filled air. A gaggle of crucified doctors and a couple of towns put to the sword as sacrifices for the kid’s friend’s ghost danced merrily round in his mind. He should have done this years ago. The kid had cracked, that was for sure. His pals were tiptoeing around him, he was acting like like a man with all the temporal power in the world who’d just lost the one thing that kept him down to earth. The only way from here would be a descent into complete and utter tyranny, which would rub off on all his subordinates , who’d become petty tyrants who hated Persia and the Persians. Ha ha, Aziraphale! It’s all going down to blood and ruin! I hope you’re enjoying yourself off in Siberia, or wherever you got yourself to. I’ve won this round.
He should have known not to celebrate too soon. Humans weren’t dependable, not one bit. The kid disappointed him by making an effort to do things he thought his friend would have approved of, and then upped and dropped dead of a fever. A fever. The little shit had lived through more battles than anyone had a right to, had survived being shot in the lung, had even survived what passed for medicine. And then he died of a sniffle. While expressing wishes for all of his childhood friends’ welfare. And with a smile on his face like he’d just seen his heart’s desire. Crowley had watched, impatiently. He didn’t think his influence had been very successful. Wherever the kid had gone, it didn’t feel like Hell. Someone had interfered. Someone had got past his defences.
“Fuck,” he muttered. “Useless creatures. And you can stop looking at me like that.”
Aziraphale straightened up from where he’d been leaning against one of the bed-posts.
“Sometimes I think you need to wear glasses,” he said mildly.
Crowley looked at him in irritation.
“I won here. Your precious little experiment in government is gone. His friends will rip it apart for themselves. There’ll be wars, and people will die. So there.”
“If I were a general from a fairly backward place who suddenly found myself a king,” Aziraphale mused, “I’d wonder how I was going to keep things under control, seeing as I’d only have part of the army on my side. I think I might look around and realise there’s a perfectly good civil service that knows the ropes, and that can do the hard work for me, while I concentrate on the showy, useless stuff like wearing a crown and finding a different person for every night of the year. I don’t think all that much will change for most people.”
He gave the most pleasant smile Crowley had had directed at him in decades. It felt like wormwood.
“In fact, given that Greek has a fairly simple alphabet, I’d even think the civil service could be opened up to all those people who can’t manage the various rather awkward writing system currently being used. I see schools, Crawly. Universities. Libraries. Further down the road I see real democracy. Congratulations.”
“They won’t do that,” Crowley said, his heart sinking.
“They will. Your problem is that you’re blinded by flashiness, Crawly. What do you think kept the Persian empire going? An efficient, self-perpetuating bureaucracy. Which, by the way, you never bothered checking when you were tearing up the countryside looking for me. What are all your little thugs going to need? An efficient bureaucracy. They like stability, humans do. The idea of a civil service is never going to go away. You wait and see. Humans will just love it.”
Crowley sighed, his victory gone to ashes in his mouth.
“I don’t understand humans,” he said. “I don’t understand them at all.”
* * *
In years to come, Crowley came back to visit Olympias. She was elderly by the standards of the time, and was about to meet her just punishment for all the murders and terrorising she had done while her beloved son was off playing silly buggers across the known world. The noble who had seized control of Macedon when the unbelievable news came back that the kid had been mortal after all was taking the easy way out of simply throwing her out of the palace to the mob, while officially averting his eyes. So far, schools, universities and libraries were thin on the ground, but all-out war between the different parts of the ex-Persian empire were flourishing nicely. Crowley had decided that Aziraphale had been pulling his leg.
Olympias stood in her room, carefully adjusting her veil. She’d always been vain, and obviously she wasn’t going to go to her death with her hair out of place.
“Hello again,” Crowley said.
He’d made a snake that looked just like him when he went away. Apart from the fact that it didn’t talk, wasn’t liable to give her dreams and had a genuine taste for vermin that he’d always had to fake, it was impossible to tell the difference. Luckily for the snake, Crowley had forgotten this, and so it slept on in its basket.
“Huh,” Olympias said. “Talking again, are we?”
Crowley blinked. This was a rare occurrence, but he was surprised at his reception.
“I’ve no time for games,” Olympias said in some irritation. “What do you want?”
“Er I just felt like dropping in, seeing how you were, that’s all.”
“There’s a large crowd with stones outside the gate,” Crowley said. “They seem to be waiting for something. How fine do you think you are?”
“I think I like you better as a snake,” she said. “No fingers to wag.”
Crowley hissed softly. As a rule, humans didn’t react so calmly to sudden appearances out of thin air, or simply accept that the people who did such things might have more than one form.
“I believe you’ve been talking to a friend of mine,” he said.
“I think I have. In a dream, would you believe. I hadn’t had such a clear dream for years. Anyway, a pleasant man, pronounced Athenian accent, (7) seems a bit wet? That sound familiar?”
Crowley’s hiss became more of a growl.
“What did he say?”
“He spent quite a lot of time regretting he hadn’t seen what you were up to forty years ago, said I really shouldn’t listen to a word you say, and warned me I had some very bad news coming, and I’d need to be strong. And just before he went, he said you seemed to have blocked off parts of my memory, and would I like him to fix that?”
Crowley relaxed. Just like Aziraphale to respond by trying to go save one single soul. It wasn’t like she had any power any longer, so what good did the angel think it would do? He grinned cheerfully as she took a step closer and looked up into his face.
“You weren’t the first to make me cry,” she hissed in a tone like his. “I never cried because of you. I only ever cried when they told me about my son.”
His smile widened. Now there was his human, petty and spiteful to the end. She turned away.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go. If I must die I prefer to go to meet it on my own two feet. I’m not going to be dragged down to face some ridiculous court case.”
“That’s my girl. Never apologise, never explain. Come on, I’ll go with you.”
As he took her hand, her expression softened a little. Right there, on the surface of her mind was the image of a pudgy baby hand reaching out for a tiny, shiny snake, gleaming in the sun like the most wonderful toy in the world. She never had known he had left her, he realised.
“What about you, will you be all right?” she asked.
Part of his mind was laughing long and hard at this poor deluded human who still thought of him as her special, magic pet. Another and rather larger part of his mind was speechless at the thought that someone would think of his welfare at a time like this. He really didn’t understand humans at all. With an effort he kept the cheerful smile on his face.
“I’ll be all right.”
“Will I see you again?”
“Olympias,” he said dryly, “You can hardly avoid it.”
The waiting mob growled and muttered in anticipation as the Queen Mother walked slowly out of the palace gates, her head held high. They had lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters to her plots and judicial murders. All of them had large stones clenched in their fists. The palace gates closed behind her, and she glared at them in defiance. It was some minutes before the first of them had worked his nerve up to the point of throwing his stone, followed by all the others. In the instant before the stones hit her, the little snake coiled round her wrist like a child’s bracelet bit deep into her veins, the poison instantly spreading and numbing her.
She was dead before she hit the ground, although the mob didn’t know that and kept themselves occupied for quite some time.
(1) He always smiled at the pun.
(2) Or as positive as Crowley could manage. By “special” he meant “quite close to me, actually”.
(3) I.e., Crowley.
(4) Most snakes stick to either constricting or poisoning. Crowley didn’t see why he should limit himself.
(5) Although the moment she was widowed, Crowley had her murdering her rivals like a natural.
(6) Much to Crowley’s consternation.
(7) Being in some ways ahead of his time, Aziraphale’s Greek reflected a good Oxford degree.
More Author’s Notes:
Olympias: Daughter of the King of Epiros, a minor state to the north of Greece. Mother of Alexander and his younger sister Kleopatra. In reality she seems to have been a lot less pleasant than she is depicted here. She was stoned to death by a lynch mob.
Philip: King of Macedon, he made his state into the most powerful realm in the Greek world. He was assassinated by one of his own bodyguards, an ex-lover who insulted Philip’s new lover, who got himself killed heroically in battle to wipe away the shame, after which the dead man’s family had the ex-lover gang-raped, and he eventually snapped and stabbed Philip at Kleopatra’s wedding. Like Crowley said, a soap-opera.
The annoying kid: Alexander the Great.